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BlackBerry 9810 ‚ a messaging dream?

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On the outside, the new Blackberry Torch looks exactly the same as its predecessor. On the inside there have been changes, like speed, but SEAN BACHER asks if this is enough.

Research in Motion (RIM) has had its ups and downs with the various BlackBerry models. For example, just last year, it released the BlackBerry Bold 9900, with poor battery life and an unstable phone. Before that, though, it produced the original BlackBerry 9800 Torch, arguably one of the best smartphones it has ever made. (Gadget Editor-in-chief Arthur Goldstuck swears by this model and is always eager to return to it after testing another brand or model).

Late last year RIM announced a new Torch, the 9810, which uses the new BlackBerry 7 OS and a faster CPU.

Will this be a phone that can live up to its predecessor’s expectations? A phone that Arthur won’t be too eager to give up in order to return to his older, worn out BlackBerry Torch? We put it through the Gadget Ten Task Test to find out.

1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)

The BlackBerry Torch 9810 feels the same as the older 9800. It allows users to control it via the slide-out keyboard, touch screen or optical trackpad. Its dimensions are exactly the same and, if it were not for the silver shell, it would be very difficult to tell the old from the new.

The mini USB/charging port, headphone jack, Power, Volume and Camera buttons are all located in the same place as on the BlackBerry Torch 9800.

It is a little disappointing that RIM did nothing to streamline the new BlackBerry Torch further, but for a phone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, it is still an elegant option.

7/10

2. Slippability (Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed)

Weighing 161 grams, and measuring 111X62X14.6mm, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 is by no means a slim phone.

Its large dimensions make it difficult to slip into your pants pocket. I often found myself jamming it into my pocket, only to realise I had inadvertently unlocked it by pushing the unlock button at the top of the phone or by sliding the keypad out. This has led to a lot of unwanted calls at inappropriate times.

The BlackBerry Torch will fit well in a handbag, and doesn’t fit too badly in a front shirt pocket ‚ although its weight may end up making your shirt look a bit lopsided.

Overall, RIM should have made the phone slimmer ‚ it is more than double the thickness of the Motorola Razr!

6/10

3. General performance (speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking)

The new BlackBerry Torch starts to show its true colours when it comes to speed. Yes it may look exactly the same as the older Torch, but it is an entirely different story when comparing the specifications.

The BlackBerry Torch 9810 uses a 1.2GHz processor, double the speed of the original Torch. It also includes 768MB of RAM instead of the 512MB on the former. This means that scrolling is far smoother and applications launch and close far quicker than before.

The processor and RAM upgrades also allow for a much easier, more seamless multitasking experience. Switching between apps doesn’t take much time, although a general loss in speed will be noticed as more applications are opened ‚ especially when switching between games.

That said, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 did have a few go-slow moments, where it looked like it had frozen, but was just thinking really hard and carried on as normal after a couple of seconds.

The BlackBerry 7 OS also seems to work more efficiently on the Torch 9810. Unlike the Bold 9900, which uses the same OS, same processor and same amount of RAM, the Torch seems to handle these resources and the OS with much less of a hassle. It is almost as if the BlackBerry 7 OS was designed specifically for the Torch and as if all other new RIM handsets should get a BlackBerry OS version of their own.

Despite the phone’s slow moments, the device, OS, RAM and CPU all come together very well to provide a fast, responsive and stable phone.

9/10

4. Life as we know it (How’s the battery life?)

Battery life has never been one of BlackBerry’s strong points. The BlackBerry Bold 9900’s battery barely lasted a day and, on some days, the battery indicator would not even give a true reading of how much operating time was left.

There is, however, a vast improvement with the BlackBerry Torch. I set it to connect to both 3G and 2G networks and was able to get eight hours of heavy usage out of it. Setting it to 2G-only more than doubles its battery life.

Yes, connecting to a 2G network means much slower data transfer speeds, but this barely comes into play when sending and receiving BBMs, e-mails and Tweets.

If you are preparing for a serious session of Internet browsing, such as streaming a YouTube video, connecting to a 3G network does make all the difference, and all you need to do is change the settings. This may sound like a work-around but, thanks to the touch screen, it takes no more than five taps to switch between networks.

The only proviso is that some apps drain battery power rapidly, even when open only in the background. Such app-demand is unpredictable, and will vary according to the apps you prefer to use.

The BlackBerry Torch 9810 uses a Li-Ion 1 270 mAh battery, which RIM says will give you a talk time of up to five hours when connected to a 3G network, and just over six when on a 2G network. Strangely, it is a step back from the Torch 9800’s 1 300 mAh battery, but still an improvement over the Bold 9900’s 1 230 mAh battery.

8/10

5. Vision of the future (picture, video and browsing quality)

The BlackBerry Torch 9810’s browser is fluid and displays most web pages clearly and accurately. It offers a pinch-to-zoom option and the ability to open multiple tabs , which are easy to scroll through.

The 5MP camera offers a maximum resolution of 2592X1944 pixels and features autofocus and face detection – but is exactly the same as that on the BlackBerry 9800. This is not a bad thing, as the picture quality is great and the dedicated hardware button makes launching the camera app quick and easy. I would have liked to see a pinch-to-zoom function here too, as I found zooming in and out too finicky.

The BlackBerry 9810 Torch offers a 3.2‚ 16 million colour Thin Film Transistor (TFT) capacitive touch screen with a resolution of 480X640 pixels at 250 pixels per inch. It’s an improvement over the previous Torch, but it is no match for a phone like the iPhone 4S with its Retina Display.

Overall, the BlackBerry Torch is almost average here, although an improvement on previous BlackBerry devices. There are no ‚Wow!‚ features, but at the same time the phone does not underachieve in any of these areas.

7/10

6. Talk to me (quality of audio)

The loudspeaker included with the BlackBerry Torch is good enough for phone conversations, but is not designed to rock your world with your favourite tunes. A headphone jack is also included. The speaker-phone function is effective, but beware the mute button while making a call ‚ thanks to your ear on the touch-screen, you may suddenly find yourself dead to the world in mid-conversation.

6/10

7. Message in a bottle (range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions)

Messaging, or more to the point, handling e-mail and BBM, is the reason many people buy a BlackBerry handset. Should you decide to buy the BlackBerry Torch for those reasons, you will not be disappointed.

I have yet to find a phone that comes even close to BlackBerry for delivering, receiving and responding to e-mails. This, combined with the full QWERTY keyboard, is a perfect match for the active e-mailer.

There are a few apps available that try to compete with BlackBerry Messenger, such as WhatsApp, but none of them come close to its reliability and ease of use. A new feature included with the BlackBerry OS 7 is BBM Connected Apps. This feature gives you the option to share apps with your BBM contacts and the ability to chat within the BBM Connected Apps, creating an ecosystem around the BBM service.

Right now, the messaging services on the BlackBerry cannot be rivalled.

10/10

8. Keep control (How effective are hardware and software controls?)

The buttons are all within easy reach with one hand. The touch screen means you don’t need to slide the keyboard out ever time you want to use the phone, but the virtual keyboard that pops up when you want to type a message is a bit cluttered, making hard work of something that is easy on the physical keyboard.

The phone Lock button is a little too easy to press when in a pocket and I would have liked to see it located somewhere where there is less chance of it being accidentally pressed.

7/10

9. The new new (innovations, unique features)

All the features located on the BlackBerry Torch 9810 are available on its predecessors. Besides a faster, more stable phone, RIM has brought nothing new to the table in the way of innovation.

6/10

10. The wallet test (Is it competitively priced?)

The BlackBerry Torch 9810 carries a retail price of around R5 000, considerably less than other top-end smartphones that offer similar features. But, it is still a lot to pay for a smartphone and as such, a little shopping around is required.

8/10

Total score: 74/100

Conclusion:

I once heard someone say that, in order to fully appreciate a BlackBerry, you have to have the need to communicate a lot via e-mail. This is the prime purpose of the BlackBerry Torch 9810. Yes, it does offer a range of multimedia capabilities, but if you bought the phone purely for those, you would be disappointed. If e-mail and BBM are your prime purpose, though, it is a messaging dream and you could probably eliminate several of the low-scoring elements and increase the overall score substantially.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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The zoom on camera – use the trackpad, much easier than a pinch/zoom could be. And the mute on calls; I’ve never experienced that. In fact, I seem to remember that it’s got a proximity sensor to prevent that.

I had a couple of issues with the phone freezing for a bit, and eventually I tracked down the culprit: wi-fi sync. Hasn’t done it since I turned that off.

One thing I really appreciate is the audio quality. I’ve had an iPod Touch and an iPhone 3GS to compare to, and the Apple devices (surprisingly) sound thin and tinny by comparison.”,”body-href”:””}]

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Featured

Hit the road with high-tech night light for bikes

Cyclists need effective lighting by night and day, writes JOEL DORFAN, in his test ride of the latest in high-tech from Fenix

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Since 2004, Fenix Light has been manufacturing quality lights ranging from flashlights and headlamps to lanterns and bike lights.

There are many folks who ride their bicycles at night for various reasons. Whether on-road or off-road, there is always the need to see the path ahead of you. During the day, it’s wise to have a really bright strobe light so others around you can see you coming. 

Enter the BC21R V2.0.

The original 880 lumen BC21R was released some years ago. Besides the main light, it also had two red lights at the side. However, there were several complaints about this older version. The main ones were:

  • Plastic construction – does not dissipate heat causing the light output to step down;
  • Rubber mount – stretches and perishes over time;
  • No helmet mount.

With the launch of the new light, now called the BC21R V2.0, the folks at Fenix have kept all of the good features and added a bunch more, as well as remedying all of the complaints from the original. In a nutshell, it offers:

  • 1000 lumen output
  • Removable 18650 LiIion battery
  • Built in USB Type-C charging port
  • Dual Distance Beam System
  • Battery level indication and low-voltage warning
  • All-metal heat fin; IP66 rated protection
  • Quick-release bike mount compatible with Fenix bicycle light helmet mount

The increase from 880 to 1000 lumens means that there is now better coverage of the road ahead. The dual distance beam system means that the areas both near and far are illuminated. They do this by graduating the top half of the front lens that refracts some of the light down towards the front wheel, allowing the rest of the light to illuminate the roadway.

When you do not need all 1000 lumens, sequential taps of the on/off switch will cycle through the different output settings of low, medium, high and turbo. In any of these modes, a double tap of the switch will put the light into strobe (alternating high and low output) mode. On a fully charged battery, runtime on Turbo is published as being 2 hours, and on low at 50 hours. 

Many lights today are sealed units. Once the battery stops taking a charge, the light would have to be discarded. The removable battery means that, once it reaches end of life ,it’s a simple matter of inserting a new 18650 battery. Also, should you be on a really long ride and find that the battery starts going flat, you could stop along the way and swap out the battery for either another fully charged one or two CR123 batteries. 

At any time, you can tap the on/off button, which will light up an indicator to tell you the current state of charge of the battery. This same indicator will flash red when it’s time to recharge the battery.

To prevent damage to the LED light source, temperatures are monitored and, if the light gets too hot, the output is reduced. This is not ideal when you are out on a ride on a hot evening. By changing the head from plastic to metal with cooling fins, however, the light will now remain cooler, allowing for full output for longer periods.

Instead of a stretchy plastic mount like on the older model, Fenix has now gone with a proper clamp type mount. This is secured to the handle bars using a thumb screw; and then there is a quick release that allows the light to be attached or removed from the clamp with ease. Two different-sized rubber inserts for the clamp ensure a good fit on different diameter handle bars.

A bonus of this type of quick release mechanism is that the light is now compatible with the Fenix helmet mount should one wish to mount it there. Also, should you wish to use the BC21R V2.0 as a handheld flashlight or to stop it being stolen, no tools are required to remove it from either the bike or helmet mount.

So how does the BC21R V2.0 perform in real life?

It puts out a very concentrated spot-like type beam optimised for distance. The lens setup ensures that most of the light is below the horizon where it needs to be, which also makes sure that it does not blind oncoming motorists. 

The light will start getting warm to the touch when stationary or when hand held. However, when cycling, the cool air passing over the finned head does keep the light cooler.

Being a single 18650 battery light, a ride of longer than about 90 minutes will see the light starting to reduce output. It’s the tradeoff of size vs run time. Therefore make sure that, if you’re going to need the full 1000 lumen output for an extended period, to carry a spare battery with you.

The older model cost $75, and the good news is that Fenix appears to have maintained this price even with all of the extra features of the V2.0 model. This places the BC21R V2.0 in the mid- to high-range of  single battery lights. Given the features and multi-use applications it’s pretty good value for money.

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Product of the Day

Hisense adds AI-cameras to handsets

Hisense has entered the AI-camera space with the Infinity H30, aimed at the mid-range market. BRYAN TURNER tests the new camera technology.

Click below to read the review.

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While many know Hisense for its TVs and appliances, it has an impressive lineup of smartphones. Its latest Infinity H30 smartphone packs a serious punch in the mid-range market, including features like a low-bezel screen and AI camera.

Out the box, the phone comes with the usual charger, charging cable and earphones. There is a surprise in the box: a screen protector and a clear case. A nice value-add to the already affordable smartphone.  

The polycarbonate plastic body feels premium, especially for a device in this price range. It has a colour changing body, depending on the angle at which it is held. The colour of the device we reviewed is called Ice Blue, and shimmers in darker and lighter blues. Aesthetically, this is a big win for Hisense.

The 6.5″ screen is a narrow-bezelled FHD+ display with good colour replication. Hisense is known for creating colour-accurate displays and it’s good to see it continue this legacy in its smartphones. The shape of the display is interesting, taking some design notes from Huawei’s Dewdrop display with what Hisense calls the “U-Infinity Display”. It makes the phone look really good. 

On the rear of the phone, one finds a dual-camera setup with fingerprint sensor. On the bottom of the phone, there is a speaker, a USB Type-C Port and a headphone jack. The speaker’s placement on the bottom isn’t optimal and the sound is muffled if one accidentally covers the single speaker area.

The 4,530mAh non-removable battery is very capable, providing a good 12 hours of medium usage (checking messages every half hour and playing an online game every hour) until it reaches 20%. The battery capacity isn’t the only power feature of the device; it runs on the latest Android Pie operating system, which includes AI power-saving software measures to keep background apps from using battery.

It is a little disappointing to see the device came with some pre-installed games. Fortunately, one can uninstall them. Hisense makes up for this by issuing Android updates and security patches as the come out. This, coupled with the MediaTek Octa Core processor, provides a good user experience for playing games and multi-tasking.

The H30 has a whopping 128GB of on-board storage, and it can be expanded even more with a MicroSD card. The 4G-LTE capabilities are perfect for most high-speed broadband situations, with around 40Mbps download and around 10Mbps upload in an area with good cell service.

The 20+2MP rear camera configuration is good at taking shots on Auto mode, but pictures can be better after figuring out all the camera modes available. There is a professional mode for those who want to be extra creative with their photography. It also includes a baby mode, which plays various noises to make a baby look at the phone for a better picture. The AI mode can be enabled to make full use of the processor in the device, and fif the camera mode to be selected based on scenes photographed. 

The 20MP front camera performs equally as well. This camera is the reason for the U-like shape at the top of the screen. The camera app has beauty-face filters, for those wanting a slimmer face or smoother skin.

Overall, the Infinity H30 is a prime example of a good phone in an affordable price range.  The camera is very capable, and the AI processing helps what would otherwise be a regular camera. The aesthetically pleasing colour saves the day, and makes this mid-range device look like a high-end flagship. The device is retailing for R5,499 from most major carriers.

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